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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Feb. 7) - The operations of the Ramu nickel/cobalt mine in Papua New Guinea may have an adverse impact on the future commercial viability of Madang’s RD Tuna cannery, an environmental scientist has warned.

[PIR Editor’s Note: The Ramu Nickel/Cobalt project in Morobe province is to be operated by China’s Metallurgical Construction Corp. Morobe province is adjacent to Madang province, where RD Tuna operates its cannery.]

Private consultant Clement Kunandi Victor says the plan by Ramu Nickel mine to discharge its tailings into Basamuk Bay could cause damage to the fishery around the area where RD Tuna catches its tuna to produce canned fish for both the domestic and export markets.

The Chinese developer of the Ramu Nickel project plans to build its refinery at Basamuk Bay and tailings from the refinery would be disposed using the submarine disposal method into the seafloor via a pipeline at a depth of 150 meters.

Mr. Victor, who has a master’s degree in environmental management and development from the Australian National University, carried out a study on the possible effects the dumping of tailings into the Basamuk Bay would have on the economic viability of RD Tuna.

The study concluded that tailings could seriously affect RD Tuna’s business.

Victor said upwelling or the movement of deeper ocean water to the surface of the sea at Astrolabe Bay could raise tailings materials to shallower and biologically productive layers of the sea, causing serious problems for the fish in the area.

Fish would take in the toxic metals and further poison bigger fish up the food chain.

The muddy or murky water would also drive away commercially valuable fish species.

"The water would be contaminated once a certain threshold level has been reached when the refinery starts discharging tailings and dumps waste rock and soil in to Basamuk Bay," he said.

He said the deep-water fishery likely to be affected is tuna.

"Plume shearing has a potential to disrupt the migrations or to have an impact on spawning or nursery grounds of the tuna species," he said.

"Worst of all, the tailings would kill off benthic organisms, a major part of the ocean food chain. Those not killed off would become contaminated."

The economic effects, Victor said, would be a fall in tuna catches for RD Tuna, which would affect its output, hence a drop in its economic surplus.

RD Tuna would have to put in more effort in future to catch reduced tuna stocks, which means more costs. This in turn, would impact on RD Tuna’s access to the European Union (EU) markets.

The bulk of Papua New Guinea’s export quota of 1,000 metric tons to European Union countries is supplied by RD Tuna.

He said the price that consumers in Europe would be willing to pay for the tuna products may be sensitive to the perceived quality of the tuna species and concerns over pollution from the tailings may cause the prices to fall.

"Should this occur than RD Tuna will loss its lucrative European markets, where exports in 2005 netted US$44 million in foreign exchange for RD Tuna," he said.

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